An eclectic mix of more than 200 cherished friends and valued contacts descended on Westminster last night for the launch of my new bravery book, Special Ops Heroes.
Senior figures from the military, politics, business, charities, the media, publishing and many other worlds gathered at Millbank Tower to mark the publication of a book that champions the bravery of the SAS and other Special Forces units.
A second aim of the book, which is published by Headline, is to raise money for two military charities: all my author’s royalties will be divided between the Special Air Service Regimental Association and Walking With The Wounded.
Taking centre stage last night were four decorated war heroes who all feature prominently in Special Ops Heroes. Like most of the bravest men I have met over the decades, their courage was matched only by their modesty.
Bill Pickering was awarded the Military Medal for courage while serving as a wireless operator with the Special Operations Executive (SOE). After being parachuted into northern Italy in February 1945, Bill, a sergeant, spent nearly three months fighting with the partisans towards the end of the Second World War. Bill is now 91 years young and remains married to the Italian woman, Rossana, whom he met shortly after the Second World War ended – that’s a marriage of 67 years and counting.
Ian Bailey was a young corporal and serving in the Falklands War when he took part in a daring action for which he was awarded the Military Medal. He charged with fixed bayonet and grenade at an elevated Argentine position on Mount Longdon, running alongside Sergeant Ian McKay. Ian (Bailey) was wounded three times and almost died from his injures, while Sergeant McKay, who was killed in action, later became one of only two men in the conflict to be awarded the VC.
Bill Bentley was decorated with the Military Medal for outstanding bravery while serving as a lance corporal in the Falklands War. During the conflict, Bill was a combat medic and at one point amputated a seriously wounded comrade’s badly tattered leg using a Swiss Army knife, despite facing accurate enemy machine-gun and rifle fire.
“Graham Watts” is a pseudonym requested because of his crucial role in a vital undercover operation that virtually wiped out the entire Provisional IRA command structure in Belfast in 1973, through the arrest of seventeen of its leading members. Graham’s bravery, when serving as a sergeant, led to the award of the first Distinguished Conduct Medal to any member of the Special Forces in Northern Ireland during “the Troubles”.
I was introduced in a short speech to guests last night by Andy McNab, the decorated SAS soldier turned best-selling writer, who also wrote the Foreword to my book.
I have donated a copy of Special Ops Heroes to all 6,000 state and independent secondary schools in the UK in the hope that pupils, and staff, will be inspired by the men who feature in the book. Already there is evidence that it has motivated at least one grateful youngster: a 15-year-old schoolboy with Asperger syndrome and ADHD tweeted last week how happy he was that his head teacher had gifted him my donated copy of Special Ops Heroes.
It was good to see so many senior figures from a wide range of political persuasions at last night’s book launch. My friends from the Tory Party included George Osborne, William Hague, Iain Duncan Smith, Graham Brady, Graham Evans, Andrew Robathan, Edward Leigh, Caroline Spelman, Mark Pritchard and Archie Hamilton (Lord Hamilton of Epsom).However, I was delighted too to welcome Labour’s Tom Watson, Michael Dugher and John Spellar, as well as UKIP leader Nigel Farage and recently-elected MP Douglas Carswell.Courage has been an interest of mine since I was a boy, and it was not long before I developed a special fascination with the Special Forces, in general, and the SAS, in particular.
Bravery is a wonderful human quality and I have long had an overwhelming admiration for those who display premeditated, or what I like to call “cold”, courage by becoming involved in Special Ops missions, often behind enemy lines or as part of a small, hit-and-run raiding force.
It is for this reason that on top of my collection of Victoria Crosses and medals for gallantry in the air, I have also established a collection of more than 100 groups of medals that were awarded to Special Forces members or, more loosely, to those taking part in what might be described as “Special Ops” missions.
Many of these men were featured in Special Forces Heroes, my book published six years ago. And now more than 50 other men feature in Special Ops Heroes, the book that was launched last night and which spans more than half a century from the formation of the Long Range Desert Group (LRDG) in 1940 to the bravery of soldiers during the First Gulf War.
- Special Ops Heroes by Michael Ashcroft is published in hardback by Headline and costs £20 (RRP). For more information on the new book or to order a copy, visit www.specialopsheroes.com.